Part of UConn’s Depot campus could become home to the region’s first comprehensive research center on autonomous vehicles and transportation planning in “smart cities” as part of a proposal in the early stages of discussion.
The Connecticut Transportation Institute (CTI), part of the School of Engineering, and Guilford’s Promesa Capital LLC have developed a concept for a Connected and Autonomous Vehicle (CAV) test track and research facility at the University .
While many steps and approvals would be required before this becomes a reality, UConn’s board of directors kicked off the wheels for further exploration on Wednesday by granting Promesa an option to purchase 105 acres of largely in the southwest part of Depot Campus.
The option gives Promesa nine months, with the option of four extensions, to review site suitability, conduct various tests and reviews, and seek zoning approvals from the City of Mansfield. If Promesa meets the criteria and agrees to enter into covenants to restrict use to the intended purpose, UConn would sell the property for $5 million.
Promesa would use its own funding to build the roughly $30 million facility, which it named Spectrum Park. UConn and possibly other compatible public and private entities would use the facility in their research and development initiatives in “smart city” transportation planning, autonomous vehicle testing, energy systems research, and other areas. .
Parts of the 105-acre property face Routes 32 and 195, but the vast majority is to the east of this area and cannot be seen from the roads.
The site was chosen because it is close enough to other parts of UConn Storrs and the Depot Campus to be convenient for researchers, but far enough away that the facility can be designed and operated unobtrusively.
Eric Jackson, director of the Connecticut Transportation Institute and associate research professor of civil and environmental engineering, said they envision a space in which research, development and education take place on transportation technologies, new ideas for mobility in cities and related topics. .
“We hope to create and inspire some startups, while connecting with global companies who can use this facility to demonstrate, test and research their products,” Jackson said. “We want it to be an open space for learning and sharing ideas to improve safety, efficiency, resilience, and the sharing of data and ideas.”
It would become a real-world laboratory for undergraduate and graduate students to join research faculty. It also has the potential to drive economic development in Mansfield and the region if new technologies are spun off into local businesses or generate licenses, patents and contracts.
“Mansfield, as a community, is committed to smart, well-placed economic development that is environmentally responsible and leads to job creation. This type of business will also help keep our young people in Connecticut and Mansfield,” said Mansfield Mayor Toni Moran. “Furthermore, it will allow businesses to take advantage of the economic incentives and other benefits associated with locating in a federally designated Opportunity Zone.”
In addition to the research aspects, the facility would also have a track on which autonomous vehicles could be tested. Jackson said the tests are just one of the many opportunities this facility would provide as part of the larger project to consider transportation planning in a “smart city.”
“Smart city” research and field-related transportation planning are among several emerging areas in which UConn is striving to become a national leader, and they naturally align with its studies in energy systems, sustainability and related topics.
“We want to be able to educate the public and municipalities on the latest technology and how to install and maintain the transportation systems of the future,” Jackson said.